Ready or not, there's a new young female star breaking out from the Disney Channel.
A princess is born: Mendler co-wrote every song on her debut album, Hello My Name Is …, released in October. But she has been writing songs since she was 6 or 7, when she composed a ditty about "little baby Jesus, resting in a manger" inspired by her younger brother's Play-Doh nativity scene. Mendler made her stage debut around that same time, playing Princess Multiplication in her first-grade play: "I sang a song about how you can't multiply with zero."
Musical anglophile: Though Mendler was born in Washington, D.C., and has lived in California since she was 8, her debut album unmistakably bears the influence of British neo-soul. Mendler expresses fondness for artists like Ellie Goulding, Florence + the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds and Lianne La Havas. "I love British sassiness, and their style is so cool," she says. "If I could be born again as a Brit? Love that."
Didn't she blow your mind this time?: Yes, Mendler was aware of The Delfonics' 1968 hit Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love) – or, more accurately, The Fugees' 1996 Ready or Not that borrowed the chorus from the Philadelphia soul group – when she, Emanuel "Eman" Kiriakou and Evan Bogart wrote their song. "One of the writers played The Fugees' Ready or Not, and we were, like, 'Let's do an interpolation; that'd be kind of fun,'" she says. "So we did that and became familiar with The Delfonics' version also and kind of came up with our own. So it was intentional." The song is No. 25 on USA TODAY's top 40 airplay chart and has sold 356,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Actress, singer, student: Mendler will enter the University of Southern California as a freshman in January. "My plan right now is just to do one class at a time and see how that goes," she says. "I'm just going to study something that will be interesting and doable from the road and just take care of my general education courses for now." She hopes to get a degree eventually, though she doesn't plan to major in an entertainment-related field. She's currently considering arts history. "I want to know something outside of what I do." Mendler's mother will be at USC at the same time, pursuing a doctorate. "She's such an overachiever," Mendler says.
Next year and beyond: Mendler will play several radio-station shows, including New York's Z100 Jingle Ball, between now and the end of the year. She hopes to do a larger tour in 2013. "I have Good Luck Charlie for the first half of the year," she says. "We'll probably put some touring dates in after that. I'm probably also going to do a few international dates on the hiatuses during Good Luck Charlie's shooting time." Beyond Disney Channel – and her music and school – Mendler's got her eye on feature films. "I don't want to bust out into some edgy thing, because I do value the audience that's there. I also think there's a way to be a grown-up without being that. But I'd love to be in an action movie or some fun comedy – that'd be awesome. I feel like it's a good time to dream big."